Japan ended up winning the 2023 World Baseball Classic, and Shohei Ohtani commanded most of the attention during the international competition, especially with his game-ending strikeout of Team USA captain (and fellow Angels teammate) Mike Trout in the WBC championship.
Relive Shohei Ohtani vs Mike Trout in its entirety pic.twitter.com/8ln13dH3fC
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 22, 2023
On the other hand, while Ohtani certainly grabbed most of the spotlight, some other international players especially emerged, including Mexico’s Randy Arozarena, who will be entering his fourth season with the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
In six games in the WBC, Arozarena emerged as one of Mexico’s most productive overall players (in addition to Washington’s Joey Meneses). In 20 at-bats, he posted a slash of .450/.607/.900 with a home run and nine RBI. Furthermore, he also had a knack for making spectacular plays, including this home-run robbery in the WBC semifinal against Japan (which also produced a legendary stoic celebration to boot).
It’s hard to describe what Randy Arozarena has done these past couple weeks pic.twitter.com/fEYZIk2ier
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) March 21, 2023
Arozarena has long been known for making spectacular plays with the Rays over the past three years, so his penchant for big moments during the WBC wasn’t a surprise to any baseball fan who has been following him (especially Rays fans).
That said, Arozarena also showed some major improvements in an area where he’s had mixed results in the past: plate discipline.
During the WBC, the 28-year-old outfielder generated six walks to only five strikeouts. To compare, in 2022 with Tampa Bay, he produced a 0.29 BB/K ratio, which was four points lower than the 0.33 mark he produced in 2021, his first full season in the Major Leagues. Even though his strikeout rate did improve his mark from 2021, he also saw a massive drop in his walk rate as well, which is not an encouraging trend.
According to Scott Chu’s latest Top 100 Outfielders for Fantasy Baseball list, Arozarena comes in at No. 13, ranking as a Tier Three outfielder for the upcoming 2023 fantasy baseball season.
Now can Arozarena meet or exceed that expectation, fueled by the momentum of his WBC performance?
Or will Arozarena’s questionable walk, strikeout, and approach metrics perhaps hold him back from reaching his ceiling as a fantasy performer this season?
Conflicts in Contact Data
When it comes to diving into Arozarena’s 2022 season, his plate discipline and contact data paint all kinds of different pictures, which makes it tough for fantasy managers who roster him in their leagues.
Here’s a look at his plate discipline metrics over his career, stemming back to his debut in 2019 when he was still in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. It’s easy to notice his high swinging strike rates, as well as his low contact rates over that four-year span.
While Arozarena did see a 3.9 percent decline in his strikeout rate from 2021 to 2022, his swinging strike rate only saw a 1.4 percent improvement, and his CSW (called strike-plus-whiff) rate only decreased by 0.3 points as well. Arozarena also saw a 4.3 percent gain in contact rate, but it also came with him swinging two percent more and swinging on pitches outside the strike zone at a higher clip as well (4.6 percent higher to be specific).
PLV Contact Ability charts from Arozarena in 2022 also demonstrate that the Rays outfielder has a strong ability to make contact at the plate in comparison to his peers.
Arozarena does have a rough stretch from around his 600th swing to about his 800th swing. During that time frame, his contact ability dropped to about the 25th percentile. Other than that stretch though, his contact ability not only stayed at or above the MLB average but also touched multiple times into the 75th percentile.
Nonetheless, the more free-swinging approach and surprising contact ability didn’t have a huge impact on his overall performance in 2022. His xwOBA r0lling chart demonstrates the same overall trend in 2022 and 2021 for Arozarena, despite the difference in contact rates.
And hence, despite some positive upward trends in contacts and fewer swinging strikes from 2021 to 2022, Arozarena didn’t exactly have as big a jump offensively as one would have expected.
In addition to a bit of a plateau in his rolling xwOBA from 2021 to 2022, Arozarena also saw some slight regression in a lot of his batted-ball and hard-hit metrics last season well.
As fantasy baseball fans can see in the table above, Arozarena saw his lowest marks in barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and xwOBA since his rookie season in St. Louis in 2019. This regression also happened despite posting a career-best max exit velocity, and the second-best launch angle of his career as well.
That is not necessarily a good sign that Arozarena can suddenly turn around the two-year regression he has seen in wOBA since his breakout season in Tampa during the COVID pandemic-shortened season.
Power and Hitter Performance: Signs for Optimism?
Over the past two seasons, Arozarena has accumulated 40 home runs and is averaging a .184 ISO. That’s a big reason why Arozarena is being ranked as the 38th-best overall player and 27th-best hitter in fantasy drafts this season, according to Fantasy Pros ADP data.
But much like his contact data, the power metrics don’t exactly paint a clear picture of what kind of power potential Arozarena can bring the Rays and fantasy teams in 2023.
Even though he got off to a slow start in 2022, Arozarena showcased some intriguing power at times. Those spikes in Arozarena’s power can be seen in his PLV power rolling chart from last season.
Arozarena’s expected extra bases added average was above the MLB average last season, and he either was around or beyond the 90th percentile in this area on four separate occasions as well. That’s a pretty solid place to be on a power end for an outfielder, especially with Arozarena’s added speed on the basepaths (he has stolen 52 bases over the past two seasons).
Below is an example of Arozarena’s special power ability, as he is able to drive a slider from Toronto’s Anthony Bass on the outside edge for a home run over the right field wall at Tropicana Field.
Randy Arozarena – Tampa Bay Rays (20) pic.twitter.com/SsHD6OR0Ku
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) September 24, 2022
Arozarena’s PLV hitter performance chart showcases some encouraging trends that Arozarena is on the cusp of figuring things out at the plate, and that could explain his strong WBC performance this past spring.
From his 1,800th pitch seen and beyond, his rolling trend stayed at or above the 90th percentile in runs added per 100 pitches, and he never was below league average at any point in this category as well. All this can be seen in the PLV chart below:
Could fantasy baseball fans see Arozarena continue to build on this power trend, and perhaps be a 25-30 home run hitter with a .200-plus ISO to boot in 2023? Those kinds of numbers could easily help him jump from a Tier Three outfielder to perhaps a Tier Two or even Tier One by the end of the season.
The power tool and hitter performance potential show that Arozarena’s on the cusp. It’s simply a matter of maintaining consistency in his swing judgment and plate discipline, especially over the course of a full season.
Are Changes Coming This Season?
As hinted at before, while Arozarena did improve in his ability to make contact at the plate in his second full season with the Rays, it didn’t necessarily correlate with better decision-making at the plate.
That is evidenced not only by his high swing and O-Swing rates in 2022 but can also be seen by the wild peaks and valleys of his PLV Decision Value rolling chart, which measures the value of a hitter’s decision to swing or take.
From about the 1,500 to 2,200 pitch mark, Arozarena was in the 90th percentile when it came to runs added per 100 pitches in regard to his swing decisions. Unfortunately, before and after that brief stretch of excellence, he was below the league average, which also included him dwelling in the bottom 10th percentile in the category by the end of the season.
That being said, Andrea of Scout Girl Report, did notice some changes in Arozarena’s stance during the WBC. She pointed out changes in his hands as well as the angle of his bat, which is more perpendicular to the ground in comparison to a season ago.
Looks like Randy Arozarena was working on something in the offseason. Small sample, but he's started the year with a slightly different stance compared to last year. Limited video so far so unclear if there are any differences in the other phases of the swing pic.twitter.com/4aeNwPJFyc
— Andrea (@scoutgirlreport) March 13, 2023
Based on the image comparison shared by Andrea, it does seem like Arozarena is more relaxed with the shoulders, which allows his head to be a little more open to the mound. With his head more open, he may be able to see the ball better, which includes identifying the potential break on breaking pitches sooner as well.
Not only did Arozarena show more restraint at the plate during the WBC, but he also was able to pounce on pitches better as well, as evidenced by this home run against Colombia in the pool round.
Randy Arozarena – Mexico (1)* pic.twitter.com/t5hwzGtATE
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 11, 2023
Hence, it will be interesting to see if Arozarena’s new stance could help him improve in his plate discipline at the plate in 2023, even though the 1.20 BB/K ratio he produced during the 20 at-bat WBC sample may be wishful thinking.
Final Thoughts on Arozarena
There’s no question that Arozarena is a top-15 outfielder in fantasy baseball, which can’t be discredited considering how shallow the outfield position can be in drafts (and with so many spots to fill as well in most league formats).
Nonetheless, considering how hyped Arozarena was after his sensational performance in the 2020 World Series, fantasy baseball fans cannot help but feel disappointed that Arozarena hasn’t ascended to a Tier One or Top-5 or 10 outfielder at this point in his career.
At this point, Arozarena seems to be a sure bet to be at least a 20-home run hitter and 30-stolen base threat. The latter could grow even more with the new pitching rules and base sizes to be implemented for the upcoming season.
In case folks are wondering, the reasons MLB wants larger bases:
-Increase stolen base success rates (and thus encourage more SB attempts).
-Increase the number of infield hits.
-Decrease the number of collisions/injuries around the bag. https://t.co/ttN2ovkRtn
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) March 9, 2022
That said, in terms of the former, a lot depends on how Arozarena’s decision-making develops at the plate this season.
There’s no question that the power tool is there, and the contact tool is continuing to improve and may be better than his 73.5 percent rate indicates. However, his free-swinging approach led to a lot of chases, which either resulted in whiffs or unproductive contact that sapped his ability to make hard contact on batted balls.
Arozarena has made some adjustments this offseason, and that was clearly evident in the WBC in a good way. But the WBC is only a small sample. Can Arozarena transition that approach and ability over a full 162-game season?
That is why Arozarena is such a complicated fantasy baseball star and will continue to be one for now.
Let’s see if that moniker will change by the conclusion of the 2023 season.
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Matt Fletcher (@little.gnt on Instagram)